Social Worker Can’t Sue for Age Discrimination

     WASHINGTON (CN) – When authorities made the horrifying discovery in 2008 of four murdered young girls, widespread firings engulfed the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, which had failed to act on a report of child abuse in the girls’ home. This week, a federal judge tossed age-discrimination claims filed by a former social worker who said she had to quit as the agency roughly tripled her caseload.

     Patricia Ivey sued former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for age discrimination in 2009, claiming that the agency’s Child Protective Services Unit made working conditions intolerable for older employees. Ivey was 58 at the time her age, and her caseload, which is supposed to be capped at 12, rose to 54 then dropped to 30.
     The changes to her department spawned from the murder of four young girls, allegedly killed by their mother Banita Jacks in January 2008. A caseworker assigned to the Jacks family had failed to make contact, despite reports of child abuse and neglect.
     Over the next several months, Fenty fired seven Child and Family Services employees, including Ivey’s supervisor.
In her complaint, Ivey claimed to have “specifically warned that the high number of cases assigned to her put children at risk.”
     Overwhelmed by the caseload in August 2008, “a child accidently died from ingesting her father’s prescription medication in one of the cases to which plaintiff had only recently been assigned,” U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson summarized. “The Agency placed plaintiff on administrative leave while the matter was reviewed. Before that process was complete, plaintiff resigned because she ‘sens[ed] her termination was imminent.'”
     Fenty moved to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim, and Jackson agreed on Monday.
     In whittling down Ivey’s constitutional claims, Jackson noted that the plaintiff failed to prove violations of due process and equal protection.
     “Even if these barebones allegations were enough to describe some sort of disparate impact on the older workers, the complaint also fails to allege the necessary element of discriminatory purpose – i.e., that these workers received a larger share of the work specifically because of their age,” Jackson wrote.
     “Indeed, there are multiple other inferences that can be drawn from these allegations,” the judge added later. “For example, at a time when the Agency was under intense public scrutiny, one reasonable interpretation of the allegations is that more cases were assigned to older caseworkers because of their superior experience and knowledge of child protective services. The complaint provides an explanation for why, during the surge of reports, the defendant would have assigned more cases to plaintiff – she specifically alleges that she had received outstanding performance reviews and promotions. Thus, plaintiff’s conclusory allegations of discrimination, without any supporting information, ‘stop short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”
     And though Ivey may have had justifiable concerns about her ballooning caseload, she has failed to argue that the caseload was imposed deliberately, as is necessary to claim constructive discharge.
     “The Court cannot reasonably conclude that defendant was deliberately assigned too many cases for the purpose of driving her out in the face of her own allegation that she resigned at a time when her caseload was going down,” Jackson wrote (emphasis in original). “Indeed, the opposite conclusion is more plausible. Furthermore, plaintiff does not even allege that it was the caseload that triggered her resignation. Rather, she states that she was placed on administrative leave because a child within her caseload had died, and she resigned ‘sensing that her termination was imminent.’
     “Finally, presuming that defendant placing plaintiff on administrative leave is the alleged ‘aggravating factor,’ plaintiff also fails to show that this event justified her resignation. “Plaintiff’s allegations state that she was placed on administrative leave after the accidental death of a child in one of her assigned cases. In light of the Jacks murders only seven months before and the serious nature of the event that led to her administrative leave, defendant’s response appears appropriate based on the allegations.”

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